It’s like when you got that new phone for Christmas.
You know it’s great – It says so on the box, and there’s likely to be a ton of things that you can do with it, most of which you already know how to do.
But one of two things usually happens; either we
1) Have a quick play with the apps, watch something great happen and put it back in the box for when we have more time later on or
2) Manically start playing with various features at random, getting engrossed in one or two whilst completely missing the basics (like where to find the arrow keys on the iPhone keyboard)
There are similarities when you’ve just bought an established website. We’ll often either leave it temporarily whilst we “formulate a plan for when we have more time“, or instantly go into link building mode posting to every directory in existence. I thought it would be useful to have a framework to act as a guide for the key things that should be addressed first with any new purchase to make the maximum overall impact.
The framework focuses on the three areas of
For the purpose of this article, we’re assuming you’ve already dotted the T’s – i.e. you’ve completed due diligence, transferred domain names etc and you’re semi competent in search marketing basics.
1) Understand your user
Before going in all paintbrushes blazing, be sure you take time to study the site’s demographics and understand who your user is and what they require.
Here, we have a notion called the “Old Pub Effect” (Pub = English / Irish Bar designed to look like a 1980s lounge). During the property boom of 2002, many pub owners saw the value of their freehold increase and consequently began refurbishment on their pub. The result? Many regular customers went elsewhere because they lost what was familiar.
Likewise, in an interview with INC magazine, Marcus Friel (founder of PlentyofFish.com – the world’s largest dating site with turnover in excess of $12 Million annually) was quoted saying “it is impossible to predict how even the smallest changes might affect the bottom line” in reference to fixing the site’s wonky images and poor design. The wonky images actually cause people to click through to the full ad, helping the notion that without understanding the reason behind why something works, or doesn’t, making superficial changes can have a negative impact unless thought through.
Before you plan any major changes, in fact before you even buy the website you should use the site as a user, and try to get a feel for what people experience from a personal point of view.
2) Evaluate the Platform
We love wordpress…and you should too. As designers, we previously looked past wordpress with the logic “why do we need it when we’re not creating a blog and we can write code ourselves?” Firstly, wordpress has evolved from a blogging tool to a site creation tool. Further more, it creates compliant, intuitive sites that are usually better coded than we ourselves could do; if we could have created the FlipFilter App entirely in WordPress we would have done (and we probably could but we were limited by our own ability to fully hack and customise wordpress!).
With a few exceptions, if your new website purchase doesn’t currently run on WordPress, it should do. For speed, we sometimes use XHTML Chop to translate the site’s existing design to a wordpress press template (theme). This shouldn’t cost more than $45 – $90 and is certainly a sensible investment.
3) Upgrade your theme
If your site already runs on WP and it has a “design only a mother could love”, it may be worthwhile giving it a facelift and upgrading to a custom theme. Again, themes are something which we initially snubbed, but things have evolved since 2007 and some extremely talented designers provide very slick, compliant themes for less than $30. (In creating this site, faced with losing two weeks in creating a design from scratch, we opted to use a theme as our start point and consequently hacked it to death to fit our needs!). Googling ‘Premium WordPress Themes’ should be a sufficient start, but for quality vs. price, we’ve found Theme Forest to be great.
4) What’s Hot in your neighbourhood?
Competitor intelligence is a whole other article, and something you should have at least touched on prior to buying the site. Once you know your top search terms (how people find you through organic search), compare this with a list of your competitor’s top search terms (try Alexa.com) and you should be able to see where there are demand gaps in your current content.
For example, if your competitor’s top search query, is for “iWidget 7” but your page on this is one of the least popular visited, it could be that it’s not being found and essentially you’re missing out on valuable market share. Ideally, try to find at least five concrete areas to further develop content for.
5) What’s Hot at Home?
Providing some form of stats have been installed (if they haven’t, this should be number 1 on your to do list!) you should be able to get a feel for the pages, content, products or features that visitors are most interested in. This should be your second priority for content generation. In the absence of time to do it all, start creating content under your most popular categories first, and work backwards.
6) Setup Visitor Tracking
An accurate conversion ratio is a goldmine to an investor, as the business becomes less of a gamble and more of a machine. I.e. Put $x dollars of marketing in to acquire a customer, and get $x dollars out as profit from that customer over their lifespan. Even without thoughts of IPOs you should always know your overall conversion ratio for your most valuable action whether this is a sale, enquiry, sign up or download.
We recommend using “Goals” in Google Analytics to track your current conversion ratios. Through tracking the number of people who land on a specified page (checkout, contact, download confirmation etc) Analytics will provide accurate conversion percentages and allow you to filter them by traffic source or location. As with all data, having more usually increases accuracy so set this up early even if marketing isn’t immediately on your to do list.
7) Outsource for speed
Internet Marketers and those who love Website Flipping are generally masters of all trades. In an average week at a startup with less than 10 staff, your role will involve finance, marketing, PR, copy writing, web design, IT, customer support etc. As we develop as professionals, we acquire skills, and become more competent at doing the things we need to do (anyone remember the problems they had the first time they tried to build their own site?!).
A common assumption is that because money is precious and in short supply and we are now competent at doing a certain task, we should undertake everything ourselves. Our advice is to outsource non critical tasks whenever you can, as speed usually wins and saves cash in the long term.
Content creation is one those things, that although critical, should in most cases be outsourced. The exception is
a) Posts that convey your opinion or something of personal value
b) You have an interest or greater than average knowledge in your chosen niche / field.
c) You have plenty of time and enjoy writing.
For everything else, outsource. We recommend Elance.com for quality writers (use US, Canadian, Australian or UK writers for English language posts). Average price from US providers is approximately $9 per 500 words article.
8) Prune Dead Weight
Did you inherit any Pay per Click (PPC) ad campaigns when you purchased the website? The likelihood is you’re carrying some keyword dead weight, especially due to the dynamic and ever changing nature of search. In the previous post, we recommended setting up conversion tracking; you should be able to see the rate at which all of your paid keywords are currently converting and establish your best and worst performers.
Providing there is ‘more market’ to be gained (new keywords or a greater share of clicks for current keywords), we recommend removing the three poorest performing keywords, and either reinvesting the spend into your existing campaign, or creating a new campaign focusing on the new search terms you identified in the content process, outlined on page 2.
9) Where does your traffic come from?
I’m always shocked by the number of website for sale ads on places like Flippa that claim they don’t have analytics (or at least Statpress) installed. If this is the case, you may not know exactly where your traffic comes from prior to buying the site, but you should now have data to tell you this.
If you can see a heavy dependence on paid search (including PPC, paid text links, link farms) this is an early indication that your seo battle is going to be an uphill one.
Your main focus? To get more free (organic) traffic at all costs (is that an oxymoron!?). There are exceptions, especially where niches are not specific and competition is high. In certain cases you may only have the option of gaining traffic through paid services and this may work fine, providing the difference between the acquisition cost and the customer’s lifetime value is strong enough to support your campaigns.
10) Beware of paid links
Prior to selling their site, some site owners may purchase bundles of one way links on a monthly subscription, in order to increase traffic and boost the number of inbound links in the search engines. The problem is when a month after selling the site, they cancel their subscription and the links are all removed, causing a drop in traffic and possibly affecting your Page Rank.
The bad news is there’s little you can do if you find this out AFTER you’ve made your purchase except to combat an anticipated loss by building quality, white hat links (manually!).
11) Have a plan
SEO is like the Bermuda triangle of time and resource. As quickly as you’ve submitted your site to a new directory or social bookmarking service, two more new services will probably appear, ensuring that your work will truly be never done!
Without a plan containing some defined goals and actions, it can feel like you’re on a treadmill and before long all your time and resource will be engulfed by promoting one site. This is counter intuitive to the whole site flipping process where you should be spending a significant amount of time looking for new deals. Could you imagine buying a property and spending all your time repainting the walls and cleaning the floor!
Ideally, your plan should have three elements
1) An assessment of where you are now – current traffic, traffic sources and inbound links to your domain.
2) An assessment of where you need to be, benchmarked by your competition.
3) A plan of what you need to do to get there ( e.g. build 250 more links over the next four weeks, invest in PPC on new keywords etc)
Segment the action part of your plan into four sections – Directories, Blogs, Social (e.g. Twitter, Delicious) and Articles and set a fixed amount of time to work on each in accordance with the amount of traffic they bring in.
I hope this helps to organise the myriad of things to do when you inherit even the most well performing site. If you think we’ve missed something crucial out, let us know.